Study Questions


Betrayal and Healing: 1 and 2 Samuel


Please note that these study questions are designed to function as a springboard for class discussion.   Do not spend time on arguing about facts or historical details, since we can always look them up later.  Note that the presence of your colleagues cannot be recovered easily; therefore, listen for God's voice in the words we say to one another.


Given the theme of the course, it will be tempting to share out of our own experiences of betrayal and healing.  While the life story of each of us and of our people has moments worth a thousand years' telling and retelling, be sure to let the Bible be the center of your attention.  The word of God will provide us with paradigms that teach us to learn to live with one another and with ourselves.


Do remember that God is nearer to us than our ear is to our mouth--even the things we cannot hear us say God can hear!  Even when we don't have words to verbalize our feeling and thought, we come together in solidarity with those whose life is shattered by the experiences of betrayal.  Through the chesed of God we shall find healing.


Session I   "The Capture of the Ark of the Covenant" (1 Samuel 4-5)


1.             In its immediate literary context, the ark narrative (1 Samuel 4-6) follows the call of Samuel in chapter 3, which reveals God's assessment of the priesthood in Shiloh.  Discuss the relationship between chapter 3 and chapters 4-5.


2.             In the description of the battle formation of the two armies, the narrator presents the Philistines to be more skilled in warfare than the Israelites.  How does the narrator do that?  What theological statement does this piece of information make?  (This question will help us to understand how Israel won the land in spite of military disadvantage.)


3.             Some found the decision to summon the ark from Shiloh to be troublesome.  Do you agree or disagree with them?  How would you assess the elders' spirituality in this account?


4.             In the response of the Philistines to the jubilant war cry of the Israelite camp, the Hebrew word for God is plural in grammatical form and singular in meaning in the Hebrew language.  Compare the way 1 Sam 4:7-8 is rendered in the NRSV and Alter's The David Story.  What does the Philistine response tell us about their understanding of the God of the ark?  Compare the Philistines' notion of God with that of the Israelites.


5.             In chapter 5 what would have been the end of the story becomes the beginning of a new era.  What do the account of the capture of the ark of God say about the divine freedom that cannot be controlled by humans?  How does one learn to live with such a perilous presence of the blessed God?


Session II    "Give Us a King" (1 Samuel 8-11)


1.             It seems the biblical account in these chapters show a Janus-faced approach to the introduction to monarchy.  The kingship is at once welcomed and excused.  What impact does that have upon the institution of kingship in Israel in general and the Saulide monarchy in particular?  In what ways does Samuel help and hurt Saul?


2.             The narrator indicates that monarchy was offensive to Yahweh and Samuel.  How can something like that be allowed to proceed?  What does that say about God's role in history?


3.             In chap. 9 Samuel confers the kingship on Saul in secret.  What narrative function does that motif of secrecy have?  In what kind of position does that leave Saul?


4.             What does chap. 10 say about the nature of the leadership Saul brings?  What kind of stability/instability does that type of leadership bring to the Israelite society?


5.             After the victory over the Ammonites, Saul displays a remarkable posture of tolerance toward his opponents.  Later in the book of 1 Samuel Saul seems to have lost that quality.  What narrative function does that motif of magnanimity have?


Session III    "Royal Impatience and Trouble for the Land" (1 Samuel 13-14)


1.             Saul summons the Israelites, saying, "Let the Hebrews hear!"  The "Hebrews" is the way non-Israelites refer to the people of Israel in a less than complementary way.  Many argue that it is not exactly an ethnic term, but a sociological term for the underdogs.  What does Saul want to achieve with the summoning of the "Hebrews"?


2.             When Samuel did not come within the fixed time, Saul took the matter of sacrifice into his own hands.  Why does that offend Samuel so much?  What does that say about the relationship of Samuel and Saul?


3.             Every decision a leader makes for the entire group is a demonstration of his or her style of leadership.  In chapter 14 Saul imposes on his troops a rash vow that troubles the land in Jonathan's estimation.  What does the vow Saul declares say about his style of leadership?


4.             In 1 Sam 14:45 Saul's troops refuse to carry out the outcome of lot casting.  What does that tell us about the process of discernment in the biblical time?


5.             First Samuel Chapter 14 begins and ends with a note about a standing army under King Saul.  How does that correspond with the warning of Samuel in chapter 8?


Session IV    "A New King" (1 Samuel 16)


1.             In this chapter, Yahweh and Samuel are colluded in a treasonous act.  How does the text resolve the tension created by that?  What does the chapter tell us about the practice that requires absolute loyalty to the crown?


2.             Why do the elders of Bethlehem tremble as they receive Samuel?  Are they assessing political risk?  Does their response say anything about the change that has taken place in the Israelite society with the introduction of monarchy? 


3.             What is the basis of the choice of David in this chapter?  How is it different from Saul's case?  Does the account offer any claim of legitimacy of the Davidic kingship?


4.             The chapter features the theologically troublesome notion of "an evil spirit from God."  How should we assess this theological claim?


5.             By the time we reach the end of the chapter, we learn more about David than about Saul.  Explain the ways in which the chapter presents the shifting relationship between Saul and David.


Session V      "David and Jonathan" (1 Samuel 19-20)


1.             What Jonathan does in these chapters is related to what he did in 18:1-4.  What is the symbolic meaning of what Jonathan did for David in 18:1-4?


2.             As David flees for life, Michal saves his life risking her own.  The narrator portrays clearly why she did what she did, but offers no word about David's feeling toward her.  Compare David's posture toward Michal with that of David toward Jonathan.  Also, look up other passages in which Michal appears (1 Samuel 18, 2 Samuel 3 and 6).  Discuss the nature of the role Michal plays in the David story.


3.             Jonathan finds it incomprehensible that David fell out of favor with Saul.  What does Jonathan expect of his father king Saul?  How does the motif of Jonathan's love for David work in the framework of the transfer of power from Saul to David?


4.             In chapter 20 Jonathan reiterates the covenant David made with him.  What is it that Jonathan asks from David under the terms of the pact?  What significance does the phrase "never cut off your faithful love from my house" (v 15) have?


5.             Jonathan's friendship with David bears the burden of the charges of filial betrayal and of treason. How does the reader come to terms with that reality?  What exactly is the basis of Jonathan's devotion for David?



Session VI    "The Massacre at Nob" (1 Samuel 21-22)


1.             Why does Ahimelech receive David in trepidation?  What does David ask for and what does he receive from Ahimelech (vv 3-6)?  Do you think there is any symbolic meaning in that transaction?


2.             The priest offers him Goliath's sword!  Recall the song the woman sang In the light of the song the woman sang in chapter 18.  Do you think there is any symbolic meaning here?


3.             There is a brief insert in 22:1-3?  Compare the portrait of David in that passage with what you see in vv 6ff.


4.             What Ahimelech's response to Saul's charge (22:14-15)?  Does his response indicate which of the charges he acknowledges and which he denies?


5.             Saul's order to kill the priests was to go down the history as a heinous crime.  Discuss why it can be considered as a sign of utmost corruption in religious sensibility.


Session VII    "Bathsheba" (2 Samuel 11-12)


1.             To locate David in the palace in Jerusalem in the beginning of this chapter strikes many readers as a sign of trouble that is to come.  Do you agree with them?  Why do you think that may be the case?


2.             Assess Bathsheba's role in the scene.  In what ways is she a victim?  And in what ways can she be portrayed as an active participant?


3.             Uriah is presented as a loyal person of noble character in this account. Compare David with Uriah.  What are the qualities that one may see in Uriah but only hopes to see in David?  What does that say about the Davidic reign in particular and the monarchy in general?


4.                    How does Joab respond to Davidí»s directive?  What does that say about their relationship?  What is the role Joab assumes in this narrative?  What function does a man like Joab have in the affairs of the state under the monarchy (or in society in general)?


5.             Why does Nathan use a parable to make his point in chapter 12?  What is the charge Nathan brings against David?  How does David respond to the charge?  Why does Nathan offer forgiveness so readily?


Session VIII    "Tamar" (2 Samuel 13)


1.                    The narrator comments on Tamar's beauty.  By the time one reaches this point in the David story, one senses danger with such a note.  Why do you think that is the case?  Some uses the motif of beauty spelling trouble to talk about the secularized society under the monarchy.  How would you respond to it?


2.                    The chapter is full of cases of deception, double-talk, innuendoes, and insinuations.  Find the motifs that can be read in more than one way.  Do they have any narrative function?


3.                    What explanation would you offer for Amnon's (sudden) change of attitude in vv 15ff?


4.             What does Absalom ask her sister to do?  Why?  What do you think is the motive behind his word to his sister Tamar?


5.             In this chapter, characters in the passage show affection toward others.  First, identify the pairs in the narrative.  Discuss what kind of love is being portrayed in each pair.


Session IX    "Absalom" (2 Samuel 15-19)


1.                    Second Samuel 15:4 is rendered in Alter's book: "Would that I were made judge in the land, and to me every man would come who had a suit in justice, and I would declare in his favor."  What is Absalom offering here?  What kind of justice is this?


2.                    It has been suggested that in the midst of his flight David is already laying out a plan to come back to Jerusalem.  How would you describe the plan?  What are the components of that plan?


3.                    The critical time tends to bring to light who are the faithful ones and who are the unfaithful ones.  How does David respond to the offer of help and hurt in this situation?


4.                    What is the role God plays in this account of Absalom's revolt?


5.             Joab seems to believe that he did the right thing.  How do you reconcile his attitude with David's consternation at the news of Absalom's death?


Session X    "Rizpah" (2 Samuel 21)


1.                    How does the king use the divine revelation concerning the cause of the three years' famine in the land?  Knowing the outcome of David's meeting with the Gibeonites, how do you feel about Yahweh's explanation of the three years' famine?


2.                    What kind of character is David in this account?  Is the David in 2 Samuel 21 the same as that in the rest of the books of Samuel?


3.                    David spares Mephibosheth.  How would you assess this royal act?  And how do you reconcile the event in 2 Samuel 21 with Davidí»s covenant of chesed in 1 Samuel 20?


4.                    What does Rizpah try to accomplish by her act?


5.             Alter translates 2 Sam 21:14b, "And God then granted the plea for the land."  The NRSV has "After that."  After what?  Exactly, what is being cited as the reason for God's mercy here?  What is God responding to, when God put an end to the famine?